“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa
Talented tenor/baritone John Barr, whose life has been influenced greatly by music and food, is for the 11th year organizing a Christmas concert to benefit the Lunenburg Interchurch Food Bank.
A dozen years ago, Barr was on his way to do some cooking in Central United Church’s commercial kitchen, when he noticed a group of men, women and children lined up in the church hallway.
He was shocked to learn they were waiting for the food bank to open.
“I couldn’t believe that people in this small town of Lunenburg used the services of a food bank. I decided then and there I was going to ask some of my musical friends to help put on a concert to collect money and non-perishable food for the food bank,” said Barr, with a heavy Scottish accent.
Music and cooking are in Barr’s DNA. He fed some powerful people as head chef in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, England, and as head chef for the Scottish Secretary of State in Glasgow.
And while working as chef manager on the North Sea offshore oil rigs, Barr joined a folk group called The Gaels, and sang passionately about the sea and Celtic culture.
When he emigrated to Canada in 1990, Barr secured a position as executive chef with Delta Hotels in Toronto, then for 20 years worked in long-term care for two Ontario municipalities as director of support services. As well, he taught cooking classes at Sobey’s.
Now retired, but certainly not idle, Barr can be found at the Lunenburg Farmers Market, where he and his wife, Tatjana, sell homemade British-style pork, chicken and steak pies, lasagna and more. His omelettes, cooked fresh on request, are also quite popular at the Thursday morning market.
This year’s benefit concert will be held on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in Central United Church, 136 Cumberland St., Lunenburg.
Scheduled to join Barr on stage are entertainers Steve Chapin, Morgan Davis, Hank Middleton, Collage, Jon Allen, Robyn Stadnyk, Richard Rachels, The Dairy Farm Kids, and Emerald Lake.
Chapin is the brother of famed American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, whose hit, Cat’s In The Cradle, topped the charts in 1974. Chapin passed away in a car accident in 1981 at age 38.
“I had been singing with Steve at his family-owned Ovens Natural Park during the summers for about a decade. I learned Harry had been involved with food banks in Florida, so I asked Steve to help me with the benefit concert in Lunenburg. He immediately said yes to my request,” said Barr.
“Steve is up here six months of the year running the Ovens with his wife, Angel, and he also comes back to perform at the benefit concert,” he added.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief network in Southwest Florida, serving five counties. The nearly 4,000 volunteers help to feed 28,000 people a week.
Hank Middleton is a local Acadian singer, songwriter and musician who performs in both English and French. Middleton is also a member of the group, Collage.
Davis is a Juno Award-winning Blues singer/songwriter, and The Dairy Farm Kids is a popular family ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists.
Stadnyk will be playing her harp, Emerald Lake will dance the Red Elf Jig, and Rachels will be singing soulfully about the soldiers in the trenches during the First World War, when both sides in the conflict agreed to cease hostilities for a short period during Christmas Day.
Allen is a writer and songwriter, as well as a founding member of South Shore Players.
Kathie Kirkpatrick, co-ordinator of the Lunenburg Interchurch Food Bank, said about 50 people, including many single men, use the services of the town’s food bank every two weeks.
According to Feed Nova Scotia, more than 44,000 men, women and children are supported by food banks annually. To add perspective, that staggering number is nearly double the combined populations of Chester, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, Bridgewater, Liverpool, Shelburne and Yarmouth.
“This time of the year is particularly difficult for people because the weather is colder and their heating and electricity costs are more expensive, leaving them little money for food,” said Kirkpatrick.
“John and Tatjana Barr are very dedicated to the food bank. We are always so grateful to have their support, and the support of the wonderful entertainers who perform at the benefit concert,” she said.
Kirkpatrick added Lunenburg residents are supportive of the food bank.
“The fantastic students from the Bluenose Academy, for example, did some door-to-door canvassing for the food bank this year, collecting more than 2,000 food items,” she said.
Admission to the talent-laden Christmas concert is by donation of cash or non-perishable food items.